The improved, more efficient fifth generation design is smarter, safer, cleverer, classier and more efficient. It might remain a rare choice – but for the right kind of buyer, it’s potentially a very good one.
As before, there’s 200mm of ground clearance beneath the bodywork. Not enough to tackle anything too rocky but certainly better than pretend off roaders like Toyota’s RAV4 or more similarly-orientated 4x4 estate car rivals.
To be fair, cars like this one aren’t bought to tackle the Rubicon trail but to deal with muddy cart tracks and slippery backroads, with or without heavy trailers in-tow. All of which is well within this Subaru’s remit thanks to its Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system. This usually splits power 50:50 between front and rear axles in manual models – or 60:40 if you’ve gone for the Lineartronic CVT automatic version. But it’s also intelligent enough not simply to leave it at that, instead cleverly shunting power around to the wheel that can best use it in any given slushy situation. In short, an Outback is better off the tarmac than a car of this kind has any right to be.
Which wouldn’t be much good were this Subaru to be a poor companion on road where of course, it’ll spend nearly all of its time. Fortunately, the on-road driving dynamics of this car are much improved this time round.
Much of this is down to changes to the spring and damper settings that work with the stiffer body to allow the Outback to change direction more quickly than before, with less bodyroll.
To be frank, we’ve always been a little surprised that previous Outback models didn’t handle a little more like this. After all, Subaru’s basic approach to design is certainly a dynamic one thanks to the low centre of gravity offered by the deep placement of the Boxer engines provided up-front.
There are actually two from which you can select, though for most drivers, the default choice will lie as ever with the 150PS diesel unit. For many drivers, it’ll be even more significant to learn that the towing capacity of the diesel version has been increased this time round – to 1,800kgs.
That still can’t match the 2,000kg towing capacity of the petrol-powered Outback though, which might be one reason why the 2. 5i green pump-fuelled variant remains in the line-up. You get slightly more power than you do from the diesel - 175PS - enough to get you to 62mph from rest in 10. 2s en route to 130mph.
One of the things that’s characterised Outback development over the last few generations is the way the car has progressively got a little larger. Back in the Nineties, it was merely a dressed-up, rugged-ized version of Subaru’s Mondeo-sized Legacy estate but in more recent times, it’s needed to be a little bigger than that. After all, drivers need an incentive to stretch to this car over the brand’s already reasonably spacious Forester estate model. And in any case, the Subaru want this Outback to be able to compete on equal terms with slightly larger rivals. So this fifth generation version has gained 20mm, both in width and length.
It’s in profile though, that the more significant changes become obvious. The base of the A-pillar has been brought forward by 50mm and there’s more rake to the windscreen, along with a smoother, swept-back silhouette. Combine this with the extra length and a prominent shoulderline that rises gently from the front bumper before extending to the rear light clusters and you get a more dynamic-looking shape.
You’d expect the slightly sleeker lines to marginally compromise bootspace but in fact, once you raise the tailgate - something you can now do electrically on plusher models – there’s actually a little more room on offer.
If you need more space, then flipping the useful levers by the tailgate flattens the 60:40 split-folding rear bench and frees up 1,848-litres, pretty much a class-leading figure.
It’s up-front though, that the biggest improvements have been made. Silver highlights run across a dashboard now offered in a choice of colours and fashioned from high-grade soft-touch materials that even extend to the door armrests.
The key feature though is the high-resolution 7. 0-inch colour infotainment touchscreen that dominates the centre of the dash. It’s standard across the range and allows the driver to access sat nav, audio, phone and information menus with the same swiping and pinching motions you’d use to control a smartphone.
If you really don’t want an SUV but really need one, there are plenty of plush jacked-up 4WD estate cars than can claim to offer a realistic alternative. Yet few of them would last long if regularly used up-hill, down-dale on the average rutted farm track. Here’s an exception.
This fifth generation Outback may not be able to replace a fully-fledged off roader for those living halfway up a mountain peak but for a vehicle of this kind, it really is extraordinarily capable. Previous versions of this model were just as good, but weren’t really large or plush enough to compete against the Volvos and Audis that represent this car’s most natural competition. That’s now changed.
As an overall package though, the Outback is now a stronger contender than ever before. It’s always been the most capable car of its kind when conditions are at their worst, but now it’s a much stronger everyday choice too. It deserves its moment in the sun.